But first we must address The Ring Two, whose backstory could fill an entire review: Japanese wunderkind director Hideo Nakata got the ball rolling back in his homeland with the thriller Ringu, which touched off a very successful franchise. So successful, in fact, it was at the forefront of a recent Hollywood trend of buying the rights to and then remaking (as opposed to simply distributing) popular overseas films in the more familiar American tongue. The first American effort, 2002's The Ring, was a tepid affair, sadly so in that director Gore Verbinski certainly has shown his flair in a wide range of films in everything from the underrated The Mexican to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Verbinski simply couldn't reach into the darkness of Nakata's original premise about the lethal effects of a videotape.
So hiring Nakata to come in for the sequel, The Ring Two, is hopefully a concession to maybe leaving these things up to those damn "furriners," after all. While this sequel is almost as shot through with as many holes as its predecessor, it at least makes your skin crawl. Nakata tacks on the videotape premise -- people who watch a bizarre, two-minute film are doomed to death within a week -- at the beginning of the movie only as a way to get things started. The real premise lies much deeper, where Nakata seems more comfortable: How deep is a mother's love for her child, and how far will she go to save his life?
Naomi Watts' Rachel Keller had to go to great lengths in the first film to do just that but is doubly challenged in this version as she ponders the sudden change in behavior of her son, Aidan (David Dorfman, himself no Haley Joel Osment but who can see dead people with the best of 'em). Seems that the little girl and co-star of that little short film of the first Ring has not only come back to haunt the second, but has invaded David's soul looking for a new mommy. So Rachel, supposedly an investigative reporter, is forced to further understand this tortured girl's history so she can figure how to exorcise this little demon without killing Aidan in the process. In a sense, the challenge is in the order of events -- who dies first?
After bursting onto the scene in David Lynch's masterpiece Mulholland Drive, Watts has grown a tad more annoying with almost each performance; you can almost hear her crafting her performances now, and save for a hilarious punchline that you know Nakata was just waiting to unleash, she is all furrowed brow and curly blond hair in this movie. I'm still waiting to care about her.
But Nakata, unlike Verbinski, revels in these dark moods, flooding the screen with ominous, choppy waves, making a co-star of the Pacific Northwest coastline with his aerial shots and foggy bottoms. So much of thrillers are wondering what's behind the door, and Nakata delivers in spades. He lives to creep.
I wonder, though, what Alejandro Amenabar might have done with this material, for Amenabar has spooked us with everything from Open Your Eyes (pretentiously remade by Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky) to the English-language The Others. Amenabar, more than the average director, appreciates the value of life, or something like it -- how fleeting it is, how relative it is. Which is why he overcomes some of the more well-worn cliches that haunt movies like The Sea Inside.
We've seen more than our fair share of films about paralysis -- and, more recently, euthanasia. So Amenabar must have known he would try moviegoers' patience with his story of Spanish writer Ramon Sampedro's (Javier Bardem) three-decade battle with the Spanish government to allow him to die with dignity after being rendered a quadriplegic after a tragic accident. Much of the film is spent with endless dialogue about the meaning of life, of how life should be lived, about a person's right to choose what to do with his or her own body, and so on. And his campaign takes its toll on those whose devotion to him rubs against their reluctant support in fulfilling his wishes, starting with Julia, a lawyer with a debilitating disease. Yet the most amazing thing about The Sea Inside is how much life Sampedro brings to everyone in trying to fulfill his wishes. Sometimes, these movies both argue in their own awkward way, you have to find the value of life in the importance of death.